Joey Potts’s Crazy Creatures: Cracked-out visions at 32nd&Urban

“In my exhibit ‘Quest for the Cyclops Pyramid,’ I depict fantastical, otherworldly characters in their quest for this intangible force known only as the ‘Cyclops Pyramid,’” says the artist statement for 32nd&Urban’s new exhibition. This is, in fact, a true statement, for what else would conical, one-eyed, and sometimes feathered monstrosities be searching for as they traverse jungles, rivers and brightly-colored otherworldly planes? Also true: “It has been said that finding what one seeks is not as important as the quest itself.” This has, in fact, been said.

Joey Potts, the artist who conceived of this quest, graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA in illustration and is currently a director of the Formula Werks art collective (check out their anti-NYC/LA, Chicago-pride T-shirts if you are, you know, into that sort of thing). He is also a founding member of the Cartel, a group of twelve artists also based in Chicago.

His exhibit, showing at the Bridgeport gallery until November 29, is quite exciting to see. Looking at the array of his larger pieces, you feel as though you are peering through little windows at a world that, in all of its absurdity, stares blankly back at you with no attempt at self-explanation. The smaller pieces, however, also in acrylic but done on squares of pine seem more along the line of Pokémon cards (and I mean that in the best way possible) which you might expect to turn over to find a creature description.

So I stood in front of these paintings and thought. And I thought. Trying to make sense of these strange things in front of me, I found my eyes wandering to the black ceiling of the gallery and then to the stark white walls and then to my friend sitting on the bench, patiently waiting for me to gather information.

First painting (“A Sudden Change of Events”): four leathery-skinned absurdities float down a river on what seem to be inflatable rafts. Leafless trees with ribbed, worm-like barks line the shore. The creatures stare uninterested as they float along. Are these beings that “share our dreams, our desires, our nightmares and downfalls, and our motivations to live”? Maybe.

Next painting (“Unanimous Exodus”): a pregnant, blue-striped Cyclops monster, her face caressed by feathery hair, straddles a bleak world, her bejeweled knuckles wrapped around a stark pyramid that rises from the ground. The eye on this pyramid seems to be producing the landscape behind the blue giant. An owl with a golden crown flies above her bulging stomach. Orange-red feather-balls lay at her feet, squinting. Is this painting a metaphor for that “intangible driving force that motivates one to live?” Maybe.

Next painting (“Converge”): what looks like some sort of strange Aztec design towering above green grass with a glowing red sun behind it. The eye at the top shines a beam of light off the top of the panel. The angular geometric pattern inside the pyramid folds out from the three eyes embedded in the colorful mess of points and lines.

It sounds fantastic, and it was, but I could not stop thinking about Potts’s artist statement. What amounts to the one-eyed pyramid from the one dollar bill having a fantastic trip through a fantastic land just does not live up to his artist statement. So you really should look at them, either on his MySpace or at 32nd&Urban (gorgeous building and great staff, by the way). It’s just that, Potts’ art is pretty cool to look at, but so was, oh, I don’t know, Hellboy.
32nd&Urban Gallery, 3201 S. Halsted St. Through November 29. Friday, 6-9pm; Saturday, noon-5pm; or by appointment. (312)846-6569